Thomas Cromwell, the guileful right hand to King Henry Viii, was said to be fluent in many tongues and adept at double talk in all of them. But I imagine even he would be impressed by the act of translation of Hilary Mantel’s best-selling shadow-steeped and highly nuanced novels about Cromwell, ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. Bright, brisk, and absorbing, these are true works of popular theater, enlivened by splashes of pageantry and vibrant performances. The storytelling momentum builds into a gallop that irresistibly pulls us along.
★★★★★ Exhilarating stage-craft and masterly narrative compression. This brilliant union between the RSC and Hilary Mantel is a marriage made in heaven. Such is the dramatic skill of the adaptation by Mike Poulton and the unflagging power and fascination of Jeremy Herrin’s fleet, incisively acted production that, if the final installment of the trilogy had been completed and turned into a play, I would gladly have stayed up all night. Ben Miles is superlative. Lydia Leonard brings out Anne’s shrill, unnerving volatility.
SENSATIONAL! Hilary Mantel makes the Tudor period buzz with contemporary vitality.
Superb! Ben Miles is perfectly cast as Cromwell. Nicholas Day is particularly good as the Duke of Norfolk. This gripping, brutal tale has medieval plague and religious superstition but it also has sex, sybaritic greed, and enough little daubs of cheek and gossip – servants passing on nuggets of bed talk, Cardinal Wolsey admitting his own adultery – to show us that human nature has not much altered.
JEREMY HERRIN’S staging has winning fluidity, with Miles spinning on his heel from one scene into the next. JOHN RAMM excels as the chirpily pedantic Thomas More.
★★★★★ These are near-perfect adaptations. Ben Miles’s performance as Cromwell is crucial and it is magnificent.
★★★★★ The dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s award winning novels about the court of Henry VIII is historical drama of the highest caliber. This is event theatre of the highest brow: Mike Poulton’s dramatisation of the two novels that have made Hilary Mantel the literary award queen of the 21st century. On a set of utter simplicity with minimal props the huge cast evoke the court of Henry VIII with some brilliance. Properly attired in period costume there isn’t a weak link. Nathaniel Parker is a virile and authoritative Henry VIII. Pierro Niel Mee and Giles Taylor are outstanding, while Leah Brotherhead takes disingenuousness to new heights as Jane Seymour.
★★★★★ MIKE POULTON HAS CREATED TWO DARKLY COMIC PLAYS THAT WILL NOT DISAPPOINT FANS OF MODERN POLITICAL DRAMAS SUCH AS HOUSE OF CARDS. An exhilarating experience. Mike Poulton has done an outstanding job in turning the books into two epic three-hour plays that, in Jeremy Herrin’s RSC production, make for a gripping piece of narrative theatre. All the main characters have a three-dimensional richness that stems from Mantel’s novel.
★★★★★ SPLENDIDLY ENTERTAINING AND AT TIMES DEEPLY TOUCHING. Jeremy Herrin’s fleet staging, with gorgeous costumes and a raft of strong supporting performances grips. Nathaniel Parker captures Henry VIII’s disconcerting mixture of magnificence and petulance, Paul Jesson is a memorable, witty Wolsey.
Having spent a most informative day and night at their rural digs in January, I thought I’d drop in on this attractive, slightly malicious crew for another tasty vivisection of their friends, lovers and rivals. And I have to say that when it comes to dishing the dirt, there’s not a scandalmonger in town who can touch them. I found myself more engrossed than ever by this galloping retelling of a fraught and pivotal chapter in English history (and divorce law) and I realized anew how much of the power of narrative relies upon gossip. That’s the force that transforms lives both ordinary and exalted into a never-ending, edge-of-the-seat serial that is subject to eternal mutation, and revision. In ‘Wolf Hall’, our ambitious hero inhabits a landscape that has been infused with the feeling of dark corridors, dank country piles and urban alleys illuminated by torches and candles. It’s a world of shadows, ideal for those whose rises and falls depend on eavesdropping and peeking through keyholes. I was bewitched again.
Exhilarating heat! The plays barrel fleetly and fluidly through tumultuous events of Tudor intrigue.
★★★★★ THESE ADAPTATIONS BY MIKE POULTON ARE A REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT. MILES IS SUPERB, CONVEYING CROMWELL’S CHARISMA AND EFFICIENCY IN A STYLE THAT’S BOTH RELAXED AND MAGNETIC. Director Jeremy Herrin marshals a large cast with impressive fluency. Lydia Leonard’s power-hungry and later power-crazed Anne Boleyn is a fascinating mix of seductiveness and savagery, while Lucy Briers has a meticulous severity as Katherine of Aragon. Through her layered, fresh and exact prose Mantel makes the 16th-century feel racy and accessible, and those qualities are always evident here. This is a brutal world, suffused with violence and chicanery. The intrigue fizzes, and the dialogue continually surprises, switching between delicious lyricism and a bracing simplicity.
THESE STAGE ADAPTATIONS OF HILARY MANTEL’S NOVELS OFFER GRIPPING PORTRAYALS OF THE GLORIOUS BUT UTTERLY RUTHLESS COURT OF HENRY VIII. This is meaty, intelligent drama.
MIKE POULTON’S ADAPTATIONS ARE MASTERLY. Taken together, they serve as an inspiring contemporary analogue of Shakespearean history plays at their best – some way better than his own Henry VIII.
TAKING TWO MASSIVE NOVELS (BOTH IN TERMS OF LENGTH AND POPULAR SUCCESS) AND ADAPTING THEM FOR THE STAGE IS A MAJOR UNDERTAKING. THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY HAVE A GREAT TRACK RECORD IN THIS FIELD AND WITH THE NEW PRODUCTIONS OF WOLF HALL AND BRING UP THE BODIES, THEY ARE ADDING FURTHER LUSTRE TO THEIR REPUTATION.